Summary: We like to do one of two things with sin - pretend it doesn't matter or pretend it is something only monsters who are nothing like us do. The reality is something more awful.... and more wonderful! A sermon for Ash Wednesday.
When my children were younger, sometimes I would be looking for the remote control. You know how it is, no matter what you do, somehow the remote always ends up under the sofa cushion. So I would lift up the sofa cushion. And there would be the remote. And there also would be 27 sweet wrappers. After all if I didn’t find the wrappers I would never know that my daughter or son had been tucking into haribos or milky ways they weren’t meant to.
I guess it’s a bit like the idea of sweeping things under a carpet. Except I have wall to wall carpets, so you can’t sweep anything under them. But you can hide your sweetie wrappers under the sofa cushion.
I think its a bit like that with sin in modern society. We can’t cope with it. So we do one of two things.
Either (and this often if it’s our own sin, though sometimes if it is someone else’s sin) we try to hide it under the sofa cushion. We try to pretend it doesn’t really matter. That it’s not that serious. We can sweep it away.
Or (and this is usually someone else’s sin) - we like to treat the person who has done it as a monster. Just read the front page of any tabloid newspaper. The person who did this so awful they are not human like the rest of us. So again we can feel safe. Because it is monsters like them who commit sin - not normal people like us.
One one the things I love about JK Rowling’s fiction is that she shows how people become the evil people they do. So she describes the horrendous abusive childhood that Tom Riddle goes through that makes him become Voldemort. You begin to understand him - and think “I too could so easily have become a monster like that if that had happened to me” - and then you see that Harry Potter has similar awful childhood, and yet he does not turn out evil.
Or take the case of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker. Both of them have terrible traumatic experiences. We can’t say that Anakin is a monster because after what he’s been through… and yet Luke goes through very similar experiences and doesn’t turn out evil.
The truth that God wants us to face that sin is awful and it is not done by people who are different from us. It’s done by people like us.
Our first reading from Joel chapter two is very dark. “Sound the alarm on my Holy Mountain. Let the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. Like blackness spread upon the mountains, a great and powerful army comes.”
Sin is serious. Don’t think God doesn’t think sin is serious.
But contrast that with our Gospel reading (John 8:1-11) Here is a woman expecting to be executed. Bludgeoned to death with a hail of stones for her adultery. Now don’t get me wrong. God hates adultery. You could of course rightly ask “where was the man” - but even if he should be there too, God hates adultery. Because adultery hurts everyone involved. Not just the couple and the people they are married to, but the children and grandchildren and many more. It’s not something to hide under the sofa cushion. It’s a thing where people get hurt.
And yet Jesus’s response is not to throw stones at her but to say “Has no one condemned you?... Neither do I condemn you”
You know how it is when you have a stain on an item of clothing and you put it through the wash about six different times. You spray it with stain remover and still it doesn’t come out. God says “Though your sins are like scarlet I will make you as white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18
The stain was terrible. But the stain is gone.
Our Psalm is psalm 51 - which tradition - whether right or not - has it was written by King David after he had not just had sex with a married woman Bathsheba, but then murdered her husband. As far as terrible sins go, you can’t get much more terrible than that. And yet David is truly repentant. He finally recognises that he has done something awful. And God forgives him.
In Lent we are invited to reflect on the bad stuff we have done. Not to water it down or try to say “it’s OK really”. Not to sweep it under our sofa cushion or down the back of the cupboard. But to recognise - you and I have done wrong.
For some of us - and this is something I find helpful - it may mean making our confession out loud to God in the presence of a priest. But it certainly means us adopting spiritual disciplines that help us take stock of our life.